Posts Tagged ‘Annabelle’

I’ve known of the legend of La Llorona, aka The Woman in White or The Weeping Woman, for a while before I heard of this film. A woman drowned her children after her lover was unfaithful to her. Horrified by what she’d done, she either dies of grief or commits suicide, her spirit returning to search for errant children in the vain hope of trading them for her own lost darlings. So when I heard the upcoming film about her would be part of The Conjuring universe, I had to wonder, how would they treat the story? Would she be rewritten as a demon? Or would the filmmakers learn some new tricks and add a bit more to The Conjuring universe as more and more people started to find it formulaic and over-reliant on the jumpscares? I went in today to see it myself.

The Curse of La Llorona follows Anna Garcia, a single mom and social worker whose children become the target of the titular spirit after it takes the lives of two children whose mother she previously worked with. With the church’s process to approve exorcisms taking too long, Anna turns to a local faith healer and former priest. But will it be enough to stop a being driven by an unending grief and obsession?

And I’m sorry to say, this film didn’t really do anything for me. Oh yeah, it had some effective jumpscares and moments of atmosphere. There were quite a few moments where I jumped in my seat. There’s a reverence for the source material here, and you can tell they’re really trying to make this tragic ghostly figure intimidating.

Unfortunately, the formula The Conjuring set up has gotten stale almost five years later. We’ve gotten used to someone experiencing a haunting in their home, calling in an expert, and then a final battle where there’s either triumph or someone loses their soul. And predictability, along with jumpscares that we know to look for, just doesn’t do it anymore. And while the film does flirt with the idea of adding something new–La Llorona herself is not a demon, as past antagonists in the series have been, but a ghost whose obsession has turned her into a dark spirit, and there’s a twist during the climax that I was surprised by–but not enough to add new life to the franchise.

As of the writing of this review, The Conjuring universe has the third (and probably final) Annabelle film, Annabelle Comes Home, coming out in June. After that, everything else is in various stages of development (The Conjuring 3 has a release date but so far hasn’t begun filming yet). If Warner Bros and New Line Cinema want this franchise to continue past Annabelle Comes Home, they’ll have to come up with some new tricks to keep audiences coming back (and no, I don’t mean going to space. Sorry Jason X, you’re a lot of fun, but there’s a silliness about you that can’t be denied. At least you’re not the Friday the 13th remake, though. Beyond Jared Padalecki and the guy playing Jason Voorhees, there’s nothing redeemable about that film. Yeah, I took another shot at that film, and I’m glad I did!).

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Curse of La Llorona a dismal 2. Has ideas, but needed to buck the formula more in order to be anything other than below average.

But you know what (probably) won’t disappoint? My upcoming fantasy-horror novel Rose, being released later this year by Castrum Press. And at the moment, I’m looking for advanced readers for the book, which follows a young woman as she starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is that you read the book and consider posting a review on or after the release date. If you’re interested, please send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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The real Annabelle doll next to the movie version.

The other day I was driving home from grocery shopping, and this silly insurance commercial came on the radio about a creepy doll. According to the commercial’s announcer, the scary doll, which can’t help being creepy and claims horror movies as its natural habitat, knows paying less for car insurance is good sense. The announcer then says, “The only question is, how did the creepy doll get down the hallway? I would get out of the house if I were you.”

I responded to said commercial, “Well, you’re not me. And after I finished going ‘Oh holy shit, the doll moved!’ I’d take the opportunity to find out as much as I can about the doll and the spirit possessing it.”

Yeah. That’s me in a nutshell.

My relationship with dolls have gone through a transformation over the years. At first I was freaked out by them, but over time I’ve become enamored of them, and even have a small collection of dolls and figurines. And the idea that some dolls and figurines might be inhabited by spirits fascinates me. I enjoy the Annabelle films and would love to own the collectible version of it (I hear the actual Annabelle doll is a little hard to come by, especially since it’s under lock and key. So that’s out). I enjoy watching videos about haunted dolls on YouTube, including this one from Buzzfeed.

I seriously thought this doll was haunted at one point. For better or worse, it’s not.

And it probably won’t shock you that I once suspected one or two from my own collection were haunted (I swear I thought I saw the arm of a figurine move, though that particular arm has no joints). I even checked one of my dolls, the one I thought most likely to be haunted, to see if it had any spirits. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on your opinion), my dowsing rods experiment didn’t yield any meaningful results, so I’m going to have to say that’s a no.

But a part of me would like to own a haunted doll. Why? Well, I guess for the same reason people collect salt and pepper shakers or go out of their way to get comic books. Something about the item in question appeals to them. Dolls already appeal to me, and I’ve been to haunted locations before.  Seems like just a great meeting of two loves, like scaring people and writing.

And as the Buzzfeed video above says, you can find those pretty easily on sites like eBay. I was actually on Etsy the other day and saw this one haunted doll that I felt almost drawn to. And it was reasonably priced. You know, for a doll that might actually have a self-aware spirit or intelligent entity attached to it.

Of course, the problem there is that, yes, the doll has someone or something attached to it. Some dolls, like the actual Annabelle doll, supposedly have one or more demons attached to it. Imagine taking something like that into your home and being negatively affected by it. The doll or its spirit could destroy property, threaten lives, etc. Robert the Doll supposedly curses anyone who takes pictures with him without permission, which can lead to financial ruin and physical harm.

And if it does have something nasty attached to it, what would I do to contain it? I’m acquainted with one of the former owners of the Dybbuk Box,* and he had to go to all sorts of lengths to keep that box from affecting him and his family. Imagine what I might have to go through to keep that doll from messing with my life.

But I guess that’s the risk bringing anything into your home that’s alive. Yeah, a haunted doll would be a lot more complicated than a pet, but it’s still something I would like to try.

Perhaps in the future I’ll be given the chance to bring a haunted doll into my house. And who knows? It might not lead to anything, but I’ll hopefully have fun and get a few story ideas from it.

But tell me, do you think haunted dolls exist? Do you have any stories you’d like to share? Would you own one if you could? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading another post by me about just how strange I am. As always, appreciate the support. I’ll hopefully have another post out later this week. Until then, my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares!

*For those of you who don’t know, a dybbuk is a ghost in Jewish folklore that’s turned away from Heaven and Hell and possesses living people to interact with the real world. The dybbuk box is a wine cabinet that supposedly has a malevolent dybbuk attached to it, and has been blamed for a number of misfortunes that befell past owners. Currently it’s housed in Zak Bagans’s Haunted Museum, where you have to be 18 or over and sign a waiver to see the box, as it curses anyone near it, including rapper Post Malone.

If you think you’ve heard of this before, that’s because the Dybbuk Box was the inspiration for the horror movie The Possession (which I highly recommend), and dybbuks in general have inspired countless pieces of literature and theater, including a famous play and ballet, and even a certain short story from my college days.

I was very excited waiting for this film to come out. How could I not be? I saw the original trailer three times before I sat down in the theater, and it made me jump at the end every time! And apparently another trailer was so scary, it was taken off YouTube (I wish I’d seen it before it got taken down, but that’s life). So you could see why I was interested in going to see it, and why I hoped it wouldn’t be terrible.

I’m glad to say, for the most part, The Nun lives up to the hype.

The Nun follows Father Burke, a priest who investigates paranormal and strange events on behalf of the church, and Sister Irene, a young novitiate with a history of fantastic visions. They are sent by the Vatican to investigate the suicide of a nun at a convent in Romania, and while there face an ancient evil that is seeking to escape the abbey and to wreak havoc on the wider world.

First off, the best part of this film is its characters and the actors playing them. Although they’re not the most developed, they feel like real people you might know and even want to hang out with. Sister Irene, played by Taissa Farmiga (the main series’ star Vera Farmiga’s younger sister, if you can believe it), is a loving, down-to-Earth woman who is trying to figure out whether to become a full nun. Frenchie, a young man who helps Father Burke and Sister Irene out, is wonderful comic relief as he flirts with Sister Irene and asks the occasional stupid question. And the Nun…yeah, that monster is still freaky as it was in the Conjuring 2. No wonder a film centering on it got made.

I also love the set of this film, a castle which is like a cross between Hogwarts’s darker sides and some castles in Europe I myself have been to. It’s so creepy and decrepit,, and is made to look almost like a maze you could get lost in. Add in all the touches–like the hundred thousand crosses placed throughout the castle–and it adds the perfect touch.

And, as always, there’s a strong atmosphere in this movie, just as we’ve come to expect from the Conjuring franchise. It keeps you tense and, coupled with some good jump scares (including that one from the trailer, which still got me) and a decent plot, keeps you interested and even a little scared throughout the movie.

Still, The Nun isn’t perfect. While the plot is decent, you can kind of guess where things are going to go about sixty-percent of the time, with the other forty-percent just being minor touches like a twist with the hauntings or something the demon does that you don’t expect. That, and the film may over-rely on jumpscares. This is a criticism that many people have had about the Conjuring films, but this is really the first time it bothered me. It might’ve been better if maybe the film relied more on creeping terror and a few more twists rather than making me jump in my seat.

Still, The Nun is a great addition to the Conjuring series and a good sign that there’s still plenty to mine from the lives of Ed and Lorraine Warren. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 3.8. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot going for it and I’m glad I went to go see it. Take a look, and pray for safety…and that the next Annabelle film is good.

Yes, there’s another Annabelle film on the way. It’s going to be released next summer, and it looks like it might be the last Annabelle film, dealing with the titular doll and the Warrens’ daughter. Obviously, I’m looking forward to it.

A lot of people hated Annabelle when it came out in 2014 as a spin-off of The Conjuring. I didn’t review it on this blog back then because I saw it about three or four weeks after it came out, but I thought it was a decent scary movie. Not as good as The Conjuring, but still very good. So when I heard that the sequel to Annabelle being made was actually going to be a prequel, I was intrigued, hopeful, and confused (wasn’t Annabelle the origin story?). Today, I went to the theater to see for myself if the fourth entry in The Conjuring film series was going to be good, or the start of the inevitable horror film series decline (you know it’s inevitable).

This might actually be the most solid entry since the original Conjuring film, and it’s a lot better than the first Annabelle.

Annabelle: Creation introduces us to the Mullins, a dollmaker and his wife who lose their little girl in an accident. Years later, the Mullins open their home to a girls’ orphanage, only for an ancient and malevolent evil with connections to the Mullins’ little girl to target one of the young girls, and through her, the whole household.

This film scared me pretty badly, using atmosphere, jumpscares, practical effects, and minimal CGI to create a powerful scare factor. There were a number of moments where I was just holding myself, thinking to myself, “NOPE!” or “GTFO,”* which just shows how frightened I was. If you can make me think “NOPE!” and make me want to run (or the characters), you’ve done a good job with your scary movie.

The direction of the film was strong and skillful, the writing for the most part was effective and didn’t have that many issues. This was an almost entirely female cast, and they were all very convincing. I especially loved the interaction between characters Janice and Linda, who have a very sisterly bond between the two of them, to the point that they don’t want to be adopted unless it’s together. It was so adorable, you just wanted to give them that home they wished for! I also liked the character of Sister Charlotte, the nun who takes care of and teaches these girls. Nuns in film, at least in my experience, are either matronly and motherly, or weak and wilting, but Sister Charlotte was strong and decisive, willing to risk her life and even do some things that would make others hesitate when she realizes what’s going on and has to defend her girls.

Me having some fun before the film.

There’s not much else to say on the plus side. The sets and costumes are convincing of their period, there are fun references to both the doll Annabelle’s actual form (a Raggedy Ann doll, if you didn’t know), as well as to the other films in the universe and even a hint of what we might expect in the upcoming film The Nun (coming out in 2018), based off that creepy nun-demon in The Conjuring 2. And they do connect this film to Annabelle, which does explain a lot.

There are some issues, of course, (and here I get a little SPOILER-y). And I don’t just mean the normal ones when watching a horror film (why doesn’t anyone else in this house hear the screaming? Why aren’t they running further away from the house? etc.). I would’ve liked to see more interaction between Linda and Janice, because they were so cute, and because that would’ve made the moment where one of them figures out something’s wrong with the other that much more convincing. I also didn’t care for the moments when they took the demons out of the shadows and showed them full-face, because it looks a little hokey. I would’ve preferred that they showed more of a creepy scarecrow, if truth be told.

And ironically, the way it connects to the original Annabelle leaves a few more questions that we’ll never get answers to.

But, in total, Annabelle: Creation is a great horror film, delivering on its promise of scary dolls making us crap our pants. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.6. Go see it, and make sure you bring someone (or a stuffed animal) to hug when you get terrified. Believe me, you may need it.

*GTFO = Get the fuck out. It’s what every person thinks while watching a horror film and seeing when something awful is about to happen in a particular location.

2015: 10-6
2014: 10-6, 5-1
2013: 10-6, 5-1

Well, it’s time for the Top 5 Villains of 2015. These are the baddest of the bad, the freakiest of the freaky, the ones you have to watch out for. Are you ready to take on this list? Then let’s dive in!

A reminder that these villains are fictional and none of them were created by me. Otherwise it’s me taking a swing at politicians I don’t like or plugging me own books.

5. Mary Wells/The Weeping Lady (Sleepy Hollow)

People had some differing opinions on Season 2 of Sleepy Hollow, but honestly I think we can all agree this is one of its best episodes, and one of its most memorable villains. Mary Wells was Ichabod Crane’s fiancee, their marriage arranged for them as children. However while Mary was infatuated and obsessed with Ichabod, the latter only felt brotherly feelings for her. When she died in an accident involving Ichabod’s future wife Katrina, she became a ghost forever weeping for her lost love. When she is raised by Henry, the Horseman of War, to cause chaos, she goes after every woman close to Ichabod, including Katrina and Lieutenant Abby Mills. When she reveals Katrina’s role in her death, it is the wedge that begins the end of the Cranes’ marriage. Sad and spooky, we love this woman, feel for her and can’t get her out of our heads. Her spot on the Top 5 is well-deserved.

4. Annabelle (Annabelle)

I love creepy dolls, but even I would hesitate to have this one in my house. Originally from The Conjuring and based on a real haunted doll, Annabelle was popular enough to get her own prequel movie exploring how she was a woman in a satanic cult who died and possessed a rare collectible doll along with her demon master. The result was that she got the chance to cause chaos for a young family, with the intent to take an innocent soul and send it to Hell. And she nearly succeeds too. Creepy to look at and dangerous to have in your house, Annabelle will inhabit your nightmares for years, which is why she’s Number 4 on this list.

Oh, fun fact: the real Annabelle doll is actually a large Raggedy Ann doll. However the makers of Raggedy Ann (or whoever owns the copyright these days) would never consent to have one of their dolls portrayed in a horror movie like that, so the filmmakers designed a creepy looking doll for the part. And that doll has been creeping us out ever since. Yikes!

3. Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron)

Actually more like Couple Days of Ultron, but that’s another story. No matter how long he was around though, Ultron is still a terrifying force to be reckoned with. He seems genial and funny at times, but his humor and reasoning, along with his fascination for religious philosophy, are only a cover for his true sinister nature and his plan to cause an extinction event that will wipe out humanity and allow his clones to take over the Earth. With a silky smooth voice provided by James Spader, you won’t want to be anywhere near him when he starts singing classic Disney songs. Definitely deserving of the Number 3 spot.

2. Isaac Heller/The Author (Once Upon a Time)

Now, if you watch the show you may not think he’s much of a villain. But in actuality he’s definitely real villain material. A wannabe F. Scott Fitzgerald who is chosen to become the chronicler of great adventures through out the many different worlds, he abuses his power and starts directing events, earning himself the punishment of being sealed in his own book. When he escapes, he uses his weak attitude and his power to weasel his way out of any situation, not caring who gets hurt or what has to happen in order for him to receive his fifteen minutes of fame. And the crazy thing is, he still considers himself one of the good guys! Yeah, he does. Even when he traps the residents of Storybrooke in a fiction novel and tries to kill the one guy who escaped, he still thinks he’s a good guy. This sleazy character will justify his actions no matter what, and his spot at Number 2 is perfect for him.

1. Meredith Walker/The Benefactor (Teen Wolf)

Sometimes the greatest villain is someone who is sweet and innocent, but has been influenced by the wrong people. Meredith Walker is a banshee, one who predicts death. Years ago she overheard the thoughts of Peter Hale, one of the show’s recurring villains, where he had an insane plan to kill off the weaker members of Beacon Hills’ supernatural community and remake it in his own image. Meredith, who is already a little unhinged but normally very nice, carries out his plan, paying assassins and hunters to go after the supernatural community. Even worse is she doesn’t think this is wrong, she just thinks she’s doing what she’s supposed to do because Peter implanted the idea in her brain. Only when she realized that she’s caused the deaths of many innocent people and that Peter was more unhinged than her does she regret her actions. Kind and afflicted, Meredith’s turn as a villain was terrifying and stunning and I’m seriously hoping she has a role in Season 5. Bravo Meredith, you’ve earned the top spot.

What are your thoughts on my Top 5 villains this year? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below. Tune in next summer for 2016’s Top 10 villains. By then we might have a few new entries or maybe some old ones will resurface. One can only hope.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear!

Before I start, I just want to make sure everyone is aware that I’m not actually showing you how to curse someone. I do know how to do that, but I don’t want to share the method lest someone use it on me. That would suck. No, I’m talking about creating a curse for a story, one that would terrify all who read your work.

The thing about curses is that they are relentless and awful. A curse doesn’t discriminate based on how nice you are, how much money you make, what religion you belong to, or any other factor. No, once a curse locks onto you, it’s like you have a target on your back that you can’t get off, and you won’t get that target off until the curse has run its course (usually this means death). That’s what makes them so scary.

So how do you create a curse? First you need to decide on this:

Person, place, and/or thing. A curse is usually associated with a specific object, location, or person, though sometimes a curse can be associated with more than one of these (such as with an entire family, multiple houses, or a person who lived in a house). In the movie The Conjuring and its spinoff/prequel Annabelle (which I just saw recently), a curse was placed on the doll, allowing a demon to possess it and make havoc for anyone who came into contact with the doll. That’s an example of a cursed object. The house in The Grudge is an example of a cursed location, as well as an example of a cursed person (Kayako, the woman who lived in the house, is the one who carries out the curse). Another example of a cursed person is simply someone who has a curse placed upon them, making interaction with others difficult, if not impossible. Boy, would that suck!

This brings me to my next point, though:

The well is essential to Samara’s curse and origin story.

The origin story. Every curse has its story of how it came to be, and often that the basis of how the curse can be warded off (more on that later). Generally this involves some horrific event happening, causing the curse to manifest or be cast. For example, in the Buffy universe Angel’s curse was caused when he killed the beloved child of a tribe of gypsies, who restored his soul to him through magic. Another example is when Samara/Sadako from the Ring movies was trapped in the well and died, her soul was filled with rage and she infected a blank video cassette. And in The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Freddy’s curse came into being when he was killed in a fire by the parents of the children he’d killed/molested (depending on if you’re going with the original movie series or the remake).

 

The trigger. For a curse to take hold of a target, something specific has to happen. For instance, in the popular Bloody Mary legend (which I’ve tested numerous times, by the way), you have to say Bloody Mary three times in the mirror in order to summon her. In the Stephen King story Bag of Bones, the curse was triggered when a child descended from one of any of the families involved in a gruesome murder, whose name usually began with a K, got to a certain age (in the TV miniseries, this was simplified to just the daughters). And in the popular story The Monkey’s Paw, one had to make a wish on the titular paw in order to start the curse. Which leads to the fun part:

How the curse manifests. A curse manifests after the trigger has been…well, triggered. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (yes, I’m pulling Harry Potter out), Katie Bell was put in unimaginable pain when she touched the cursed necklace. Touching the necklace was the trigger, and the pain was the manifestation. Another form of manifestation would be the Tecumseh curse, which was that any President elected in a year divisible by twenty would die in office (though Ronald Reagan and President Bush managed to get away). The election year is the trigger, while the death of the President is the manifestation.

How to ward it off. This is optional for literary curses, but it’s something you want to consider in creating a curse. In Jewish folklore, the demon Lilith tries to take the souls of newborns or eat them. However, if one has a mezuzah, a marker on one’s doorpost  that has the name of three angels on it, Lilith cannot enter the home and attempt to take the child. The angels whose names are on the mezuzah were the same angels who tried to get Lilith to return to Adam when she was still his wife. When she refused, they cursed her to become a demon and made it that she could not enter a home with their names on it (that’s how the origin story relates to warding off the curse).

The hamsa, a symbol prevalent in Judaism and Islam, is also good at warding off evil. It’s no good at warding off taxes though.

In another example, there’s a curse among some actors about saying the name Macbeth in a theater which leads to bad luck. Depending on who you ask, there are different methods to dispelling the curse, a popular one being to leave the theater, walk around the building three times, spit over one’s left shoulder, say an obscenity, and then wait to be invited back into the theater.

Containing/canceling the curse. This is also optional in writing fiction, but it should be considered. Two things one should consider when figuring out how to cancel or seal a curse is that it should be difficult, and that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the origin story. In the movie The Unborn, the dybbuk couldn’t be stopped until it was exorcised. A similar thing happened in the third movie in the American Grudge movies, in which case an exorcism that sealed Kayako into a little girl was needed before she could be stopped. In Japanese onryo legends, the spirit needs to have whatever is disturbing it resolved or it will continue to seek revenge.And in Bag of Bones, Sarah Tidwell did not end her curse until her bones were dissolved with lye, thereby releasing her from Earth.

That’s how you create a curse. As for creating a terrifying story involving that curse…well, that’s up to you. I’m not going to give you directions on that. Not in this post, anyway.

Oh, and one more thing: I saw Dracula Untold and Annabelle at the movies today with a friend. Both were excellent, getting 4.5 out of 5 from me. But something in the latter film really stuck with me: near the end, the priest character says that evil can only be contained, it’s not created or destroyed (or something like that). I think that when you’re writing a scary story, especially one involving curses, that’s some pretty good stuff to keep in mind. True evil is not something you can easily be rid of. At least, not in my experience.

What advice do you have for creating curses?

Have you written anything with curses recently?

Are there any stories of curses that are your favorite or that I didn’t include? Tell me a bit about them.